Did someone tell you that you’re ‘back on track,’ but you don’t know what it means? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be ‘back on track’?
The idiom ‘back on track’ means that someone or something is able to continue as planned or expected after a problem, setback, or distraction.
The idiom ‘back on track’ means continuing as expected or as planned, particularly after a distraction, issue, or problem.
For example, let’s say you are driving somewhere and you run out of gas in a rural area. Your expected plans would be pushed back while you walk to a gas station, purchase gas, and walk back to your car. Once you get the car started and you are on the road again, you might say that you are ‘back on track.’
‘Back’ is an English word that has many definitions– for example, as a noun it can refer to ‘the rear surface of the human body from the shoulders to the hips,’ the upper surface of an animal’s body, or the rear of a building, or object.
In relation to the phrase ‘back on track,’ though, ‘back’ is used as an adverb. There are several definitions of ‘back’ as an adverb, but the definition that is pertinent to this idiom is:
For example, if you went traveling and returned to the place where you live, you might say that you are ‘back home.’
The word ‘on’ can be used as a preposition or an adverb. It has many related definitions, but the meaning that is applicable to the phrase ‘back on track’ is:
In this usage, the word ‘on’ is a preposition.
‘Track’ is another word that has many different definitions. It can be used as both a noun and a verb. In relation to the phrase ‘back on track,’ the most relevant definition is:
In this usage, the word ‘track’ is a noun. The origin of ‘track’ dates back to the late fifteenth century, meaning “mark left by anything, footprint.” The meaning of the word that refers to “lines of railroad” dates back to 1805.
Now that you know the definitions of each word in this idiom, it is easier to understand the meaning.
When a train is ‘on track,’ it is on the lines of rails on a railroad and ready to head in its intended direction. If a train is ‘off track,’ it means that it isn’t on the rail lines and, therefore cannot move in the direction that it is supposed to. If a train is ‘back on track,’ it conjures an image of a train that has been derailed but has righted its position on the track, meaning that there had been a setback but is now ready to start moving towards its destination.
You can say that something or someone is ‘back on track’ when a problem or distraction has set it or them off course but has been dealt with. If a mechanical problem in your car changed your weekend plans, for instance, you could say you’re ‘back on track’ once your vehicle was repaired and you were able to continue to your intended destination.
This idiom isn’t just used when it comes to physically traveling from one point to another but also when talking about a more figurative journey.
For example, you could say that a person’s life is ‘back on track’ after they developed a drinking problem but then recovered. You could also say that you’re ‘back on track’ if a phone call distracts you from your work, but you’re ready to get back to what you were doing before the phone rang.
The idiom ‘back on track’ appears to have emerged as a result of the invention and widespread use of railroads. That being said, the word ‘track’ is much older than the existence of railroads, and it is possible that this phrase could have been used before the popularization of train travel.
Looking at the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that the phrase ‘back on track’ first began appearing in print around the 1830s. However, it wasn’t until the 1940s that it became more common, with a steep increase in usage in publications starting around the 1970s.
Let’s look at how you can use ‘back on track’ in a sentence using some examples:
Do you want to communicate the notion that you are ‘back on track’ but are looking for another way to say it? Here are some synonymous phrases you can use that have the same or a similar meaning:
Learning English idioms can be a fun and interesting way to expand your vocabulary. Not only do they help add depth and flavor to your writing and speech, but they also give you a glimpse into the culture and history of the English-speaking world.
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